Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dietary Guidelines: India gets to vote on food

July 30, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, July 29: How much salt, sugar, chilli, turmeric, ginger-garlic paste or garam masala is good for an average Indian if India has to be a healthy nation?
The Central government has taken up a massive exercise to revise the dietary guidelines for Indians after a gap of 10 years. And people themselves can decide what type and what quantity of food is good for themselves. The Centre has invited suggestions and comments on the dietary guidelines. A panel of health and nutrition experts will sit together and finalised the new guidelines based on the suggestions send in by people.
The Hyderabad-based National Institute of Nutrition has taken up the task of revision of national dietary guidelines that were framed way back in 1998. Fresh guidelines have been necessitated in view of changed lifestyles of people leading to a spurt in lifestyle-linked non-infectious diseases.
"Nutrition plays a very important role in the development of human resource. Human resource is one of the strengths of any stronger nation. A healthy population can lead the nation better in all the frontiers like education, economics, agriculture, defence, medical and other sciences in the country. These dietary guidelines will enable the population to lead a healthy life," Dr D Raghunatha Rao, convener of
Dietary Guidelines Revision Committee, told this correspondent.
Present dietary guidelines stipulate that an average Indian should take 10 grams of salt every day. The recommendatory intake of salt may go up or down depending on the suggestions people send to the committee. However, there will not be any upward revision of the recommended overall calorie intake for Indians.

The updated guidelines will be circulated among different stake-holder communities including policy makers, UN agencies, academia, medical professionals and nutrition departments. Dr Kamala Krishnaswamy, former director of NIN, is the head of the dietary panel.
The recent NFHS-3 survey showed that there was no significant improvement in the nutritional status of the population as compared to the findings of NFHS-2.
Surveys carried out by the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau provided more insight on the issues related to double burden of malnutrition such undernutrition on one hand and over nutrition that leads to obesity and other degenerative diseases on the other.
Some of the important issues of the nutrition guidelines include exclusive breast-feeding for up to six months and its continuation up to two years, introduction of food supplements for infants after six months, plenty use of green leafy vegetables, other vegetables and fruits and restricted use of cooking oils and animal foods.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Indian Genome Variation Consortium: Indians are not genetically similar

July 28, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Contrary to popular belief that Indian are genetically similar despite
their caste, religion and regional affiliations, a major study conducted across the nation by Indian Genome Variation Consortium has revealed that Indians are genetically different and the similarity in Indian populations is limited to certain clusters.
The IGVC carried out the largest-ever exercise in the country to arrive at the genetic affinity of various Indian people based on castes, tribes, religions, regions and customs. As many as 55 diverse endogamous Indian populations were covered under the study.
The groups included 32 large (more than one crore people) and 23 isolated populations representing a large fraction of people in the country.
"We observe high levels of genetic divergence between groups of populations that cluster largely on the basis of ethnicity and language. Indian populations not only overlap with the diversity of HapMap populations, but also contain population groups that are genetically distinct. These data and results are useful for addressing stratification and study design issues in complex traits especially for heterogeneous
populations," Dr Saman Habib, scientist in the Division of Molecular and Structural Biology, Central Drug Research Institute, Lucknow, told this correspondent.
The present study contradicts earlier reports that Indians are genetically similar despite their physical and geographical differences.
A number of research institutes across the country including Lucknow's CDRI participated in the study. Genetically isolated populations are considered to be important in dissecting complex diseases and mapping underlying genes. However, the validation of results across populations has met with limited success. Population stratification, a consequence of differences in allele frequencies across populations arising mainly due to natural selection and genetic drift, is a major problem in association studies.
It is, therefore, important to assess the nature and extent of population stratification in contemporary endogamous populations especially in the context of established or candidate disease genes, she said adding that Indians, comprising about one-sixth of the world population, with large family sizes and high levels of endogamy, provide a unique resource for dissecting complex disease aetiology and pathogenesis.
According to scientists who participated in the study, India provides a large patient pool with the majority being drug naive. Historically, the Indian population is a conglomeration of multiple culture and evolutionary histories.
"Anatomically modern man is estimated to have reached the north- western periphery of the Indian subcontinent around 70,000 years before present and moved southward into Sri Lanka in the next 20,000 years. Modern human communities may also have migrated into eastern India from Myanmar around 4500 to 11,000 ybp. The evolutionary
antiquity of Indian ethnic groups and subsequent migration from central Asia, west Asia and southern China has resulted in a rich tapestry of socio-cultural, linguistic and biological diversity," the study pointed out.
Broadly, Indians belong to Austro-Asiatic, Tibeto-Burman, Indo-European and Dravidian language families. Distinct religious communities, hierarchical castes and subcastes, and isolated tribal groups that comprise the people of India remain largely endogamous. Most of these groups have strict social rules governing mating patterns. Earlier studies using mitochondrial, Y-chromosomal and limited autosomal markers, that primarily addressed issues of origin and migrations, have demonstrated extensive genetic diversity in India In contrast, a recent study based on autosomal microsatellite markers has inferred that Indian populations show low levels of genetic differentiation. This inference was possibly due to biased recruitment
of study participants and insufficient classification based on language and ethnicity.
The representative set of genes included drug-response genes, genes involved in cancer and ageing, eye diseases, allergy and asthma, neuro-psychiatric, metabolic and cardiovascular disorders as well as genes involved in susceptibility to infections.
It is contented that the Dravidian speakers, now geographically confined to southern India, were more widespread throughout India prior to the arrival of the Indo-European speakers. They, possibly after a period of social and genetic admixture with the Indo-Europeans, retreated to southern India, a hypothesis that has been supported by mitochondrial DNA analyses.
"Our results showing genetic heterogeneity among the Dravidian speakers further supports the above hypothesis. The Indo- European speakers also exhibit a similar or higher degree of genetic heterogeneity possibly because of different extents
of admixture with the indigenous populations over different time periods after their entry into India. It is surprising that in spite of such a high levels of admixtures, the contemporary ethnic groups of India still exhibit high levels of genetic differentiation and substructuring," the study revealed.
It further said, "we note that the people of India are referred as ‘Indian’ in many population genetic studies. The implication of such usage is that the Indian population is genetically homogeneous, which, as the results of our study indicate, is evidently not true. However, we have also shown that it is possible to identify large clusters of ethnic groups that have substantial genetic homogeneity".

Friday, July 25, 2008

CCMB-OU Study: Garlic prevents cataract in diabetics

July 25, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, July 24: Inclusion of garlic in daily dietary intake will prevent cataract, particularly the one related to diabetes.
A joint study by the department of zoology of Osmania University and the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology revealed that garlic had properties that would prevent the onset of cataract. The effect of garlic on cataract was more pronounced in the case of diabetics.
Thus far there's no potent therapeutic agent that could prevent or control the lens from opacification. Metabolic intervention through natural dietary ingredients like garlic will help in better management of the problem.
T Naga Raju and V Rajani Kanth of Osmania University and K Lavanya of CCMB carried out the research on rats.
"The ability of methanolic garlic extract in scavenging the transition metal ion-generated hydrogen peroxide reflected its antioxidant activity and indicated that it can prevent protein modifications mediated through metal-catalysed reactions in cataractous lenses," they said.

Garlic administration was found to normalise the glucose levels in a dose-dependent manner, suggesting its hypoglycemic (lower sugar levels) potential. The glycemic-mediated oxidative damage was countered by the garlic extract by delaying the progression of cataract.
Glycemic-induced stress is a major culprit contributing to oxidative insult that has far-reaching effects in diabetic cataract world-wide. And garlic being an antioxidant, it checks the growth of cataract.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Infertility on the rise among South Indians

July 23, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, July 22: South Indian men are increasingly turning infertile as compared with their counterparts in north India if the decline in sperm count, quality and motility is any indication. In the first-ever evidence on quality of sperm in southern part of India, scientists and researchers at the Division of Reproductive Medicine, Kasturba Medical College, Manipal University, Manipal, have found that the quality of human semen evaluated for infertility is deteriorating in the South over the years. This, they attributed to environmental, nutritional, lifestyle or socio-economic causes.
The Manipal group comprising Dr Adiga Satish Kumar, Dr V. Jayaraman, Dr G. Kalthur, Dr P. Kumar and Dr D. Upadhya studied a cohort of infertile individuals at a regional level, in terms of the sperm concentration, total sperm motility, sperm morphology and incidence of azoospermia over a period of 13 years. They evaluated as many as 7,770 subjects, who presented for semen analysis since 1993.
The study revealed that the average sperm density among infertile men has come down to 26.61 ± 0.71 millions/millilitre which was significantly lower than the average sperm density observed a decade ago (38.18 ± 1.46 millions/mL). Similar trend was also observed for sperm motility (47.14 per cent motile sperms vs 61.16 per cent) and normal sperm morphology (19.75 per cent vs 40.51 per cent).
"In particular, the decline in sperm count was 30.31 per cent whereas sperm motility and morphology was reduced by 22.92 per cent and 51.25 per cent, respectively in the last 13 years. Furthermore, the regression analysis also confirmed a true decline in the semen quality over this period," the scientists pointed out in their study. The baseline sperm concentration and motility for Indian men was reported as 68.22 ± 15.14 millions/mL and 40.95 ± 9.15 per cent respectively and a previous study failed to demonstrate any change in the semen quality among infertile men in the northern part of the India for a period of 11 years.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Indian Ginseng to compete with Chinese, Korean varieties

July 22, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, July 21: Indian ginseng has now become more powerful and efficacious thanks to a new technology adopted by the North-East Institute of Science and Technology.
Ginseng, the wonder drug of vigour and vitality since times immemorial, has been the most sought-after herbal medication in India, China and other Asian countries for instant strength. But Indian ginseng has often been considered inferior to its counterpart grown in China and Korea.
The NEIST based in Jorhat, Assam, has successfully improved the quality as well as yield of the ginsenoside alkaloid content of the rare wonder herb using the application of bioreactor method and cell-culture. Ginsenoside is the chemical that makes ginseng a powerful and revitalising drug.
NEIST director Dr PG Rao told this correspondent from Jorhat that Indian ginseng could not compete with the Chinese and the Korean ginseng in the international market. "We have also isolated a microbe from the soil in Golaghat district of Assam which can suitably be employed for treating deadly diseases like tuberculosis," he said.

Ginseng is found wildly growing in the North-Eastern states, particularly Assam and Nagaland. The demand for Indian ginseng has been low because of the poor quality.
"Ginsenoside is a very high value natural product which is used for enhancing human vigour and vitality, longevity, as general health tonic, antiageing agent and also as an aphrodisiac. The alkaloid content of Chinese and Korean ginseng is of very superior quality unlike those found in India, which have inferior quality and poor yield," Dr Rao said.
The NEIST carried out research to improve the yield and quality, he said adding that "the institute has been successful to a considerable extent in its efforts".
Though there's no full-fledged scientific evidence to prove the efficacy of ginseng, many people believe that the herb has aphrodisiac properties besides being a nourishing stimulant. It is also used for treatment of diabetes.

No rain, only rainbow hope

July 22, 2008
By Syed Akbar
The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has come out with a "colourful" advice for citizens to keep themselves hale and healthy. With the prices of all essential commodities going up in the recent past, the MoHFW wants people to be content with fruits and vegetables to keep the calories intake intact and prevent diseases.
And to ensure that citizens take fruits and vegetables in abundance, the Central government has fancifully named its latest campaign as "the rainbow in your plate". What's this rainbow in the plate, anyway? Seven fruits and vegetables in seven different colours. Is not the idea good? Whatever be the reason behind the Centre's campaign, people will benefit a lot if they take lot of fruits and vegetables. Of course, of different hues!
"Colourful fruits and vegetables provide the wide range of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals your body needs to maintain good health and energy levels and prevent disease. They reduce the effect of ageing, making you look younger and also prevent many diseases for example, cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease etc. The high potassium content in fruits and vegetables has protective effect on blood pressure, reduces the risk of developing kidney stones and may help to decrease bone loss," says the campaign.
And now about the "rainbow" fruits. Variety is as important as quantity All colours in nature are important. It is important to eat all colours of fruits and vegetables.
Red and orange fruits/vegetables are rich in antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin B complex, carotenoids and bioflavonoids and phytochemicals. Yellow and orange ones provide powerful antioxidants.
Green fruits and vegetables contain potent vitamins, phytochemicals such as lutein and indoles, with anti-oxidants, health-promoting benefits. They provide the essential micronutirents like iron to maintain and increase the blood haemoglobin levels.
White, tan, and brown fruits and vegetables contain varying amounts of phytochemicals of interest to scientists, while purple ones lower the risk of
some cancers and maintains urinary tract health.
Just try these fruits and vegetables for a healthy living and save money by not
going in for junk foods. A healthy suggestion from the Health Ministry! An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Land texture: Salinity, alkalinity make lands in Andhra Pradesh infertile

July 15, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, July 14: A severe environment crisis looms large over Andhra Pradesh if the latest Environment Atlas of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests is any indication.
The Environment Atlas of Andhra Pradesh paints a grim ecological picture for this progressive State with as much as 203 lakh hectares of land being either saline or alkaline. This is three times the total land under agriculture in the State. The extent of saline and alkaline tracts in irrigated areas (under canal and tank or reservoir command areas) is about 5,30,000 hectares.
For a piece of land to be fit for growing greenery, the soil should be neutral. If it is saline or alkaline, it becomes unfit for agriculture. The problem gets compounded as the levels of salinity or alkalinity goes up. In soils with extreme levels of salinity or alkalinity, even grass does not grow.
The Atlas, released recently, describes such lands as "problem soils" and blames the damage to the soil texture on indiscriminate use of inorganic and chemical pesticides and fertilisers.
"While agriculture has spatially and by way of yield per hectare grown more slowly than industry and services, per hectare consumption of chemical fertilisers (mainly N-P-K) has gone up for the principle crops by 100 per cent. The constant, unabashed use of chemical fertilisers has left the soil in a totally bad shape. Soil degradation continues as natural way of soil enrichment has been pushed aside in keeping with the times calling for quick results. The salinity and alkalinity of soils has gone up. In fact the total salt affected area in our state is found to be 203 lakh hectares," the reports points out.
The area under Nagarjunasagar right bank canal is the worst hit with as much as 6.92 lakh hectares affected by salinity and 1.45 lakh hectares hit by alkalinity. The NS left bank canal occupies the second slot with 2.65 lakh hectares of soils being declared saline and 8,000 alkaline. Under Tungabhadra dam as much as 1.47 lakh hectares is saline and 5,000 alkaline.
Saline soils have been found in large areas overlying the coastal sands in the coastal districts. Saline-alkali soils are noticed to an appreciable extent in the coastal districts and Anantapur and Kurnool districts of Rayalaseema and in many parts of Telangana districts.
"In Telangana region, especially in Nalgonda and Mahbubnagar districts, soils have turned alkali due to irrigation with poor quality waters, which are loaded with residual sodium carbonate," said senior environment activist S Koteswara Rao.
Various forms of soil degradation observed in Andhra Pradesh are salinisation, alkalisation, laterisation and inundation. O the total area of 18.52 million hectares in 14 districts surveyed so far, 19.6 per cent suffers from soil degradation of one type or the other.
Current records indicate that 1,14,000 hectares of land is affected by water logging and salinity in Guntur and Prakasam districts. More than 60,000 hectares are alkaline in the districts of Anantapur, Kurnool, Medak, Nalgonda and Mahbubnagar.
Another peculiar phenomenon has been that of soil loss. This is happening and widely too due to both natural as well as man-made factors. Dryland agriculture in the state has to focus more on this soil loss as more arid tracks mean more impoverished people.
"Toxic bio-accumulation of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in water and soil has left a cumulative non-linear adverse effect on water quality, soil productivity as well as on human and animal health. Chemically induced and protected agriculture coupled with subsidised irrigation and energy use, have encouraged the wasteful practice of supporting mono-culture crops with ever-increasing doses of resources use per unit area of production, regardless of the actual crop-need," the Union Environment Ministry's report noted.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Artificial DNA created, to revolutionise the health sector

July 7, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Four decades after India-born scientist Hargobind Khorana created natural
DNA in a test tube winning the Nobel Prize, a team of scientists in Japan has now made artificial DNA using entirely artificial material. The latest breakthrough is expected to bring a major revolution in the healthcare industry.
And Indian scientists foresee in the artificial DNA a solution to critical health problems like kidney and heart failure. The technology could also be used to foretell how the health of a person takes shape as he or she grows.
"Using artificial DNA technology we could find out the future health prospects of people. For instance, the blood drawn from a say 10-year-old boy will tell what diseases or health-related problems he would get say when he turns 40 or 45. But a lot of research need to be done in this field," says senior geneticist Dr Muhammad N Khaja, whose team had sequenced the Genome of the Hepatitis C Virus.
The artificial DNA developed by the Japanese team could lead to improvements in gene therapy like silencing disease-causing genes, nano-sized computers, and other high-tech advances.
Prof Rama Reddy Guntaka of University of Tennessee, USA, is of the view that artificial DNA could also be used in nano-sized computers and other high technology medical equipment. The DNA sequences can be altered to use them as switches to switch on and off the functioning of DNA.
The Japanese team led by Dr Masahiko Inouye of the University of Toyama stitched together four entirely new, artificial bases inside the sugar-based framework of a DNA molecule, creating unusually stable, double-stranded structures resembling natural DNA.
"Like natural DNA, the new ripoffs were right-handed and some easily formed triple-stranded structures. The unique chemistry of these structures and their high stability offer unprecedented possibilities for developing new biotech materials and applications. The artificial DNA might be applied to a future extracellular genetic system with information storage and amplifiable abilities," Dr Masahiko said.
The artificial DNA can advantageously be used information storage instead of natural DNA because of its stability against ubiquitous naturally occurring enzymes and its structural diversity. The artificial DNA is almost as stable as natural DNA, also raising the possibility of building new DNA nanostructures.Artificial DNA created through recombinant DNA technology is of great help for kidney patients. They suffer from severe anaemia and require erythropoietin to sustain their life. Erythropoietin is prepared artificially using the technology.
It is available as a therapeutic agent produced by recombinant DNA technology in cell culture. The chemical is also useful in the treatment of cancer and other critical illnesses like heart failure. "The advantage of a synthetic DNA over manipulating natural one is that you would have a lot more control over the properties of the cell than if you rely on natural DNA. You would be in a better position to design exactly what you want," says Dr Khaja.
Artificial DNA technology will help scientists detect unwanted genetic material from viruses, bacteria and even biological warfare agents. It will also streamline scientists' ability to detect defects in natural DNA, such as those responsible for cancers and genetic diseases. It will help in creation of end products that contribute as much to biological weaponry as to disease detection and new medicines.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

New Bacteria: Indian Ocean Rich In Biodiversity Say NIO, CCMB

June 2, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: The unknown depths of the Indian Ocean is full of microbial activity and
is a rich repository of hidden wealth of animal diversity.
Scientists at the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in collaboration with their counterparts at the National Institute of Oceanography, Goa have successfully isolated culturable bacteria from the deep-sea sediments of the Indian Ocean.
The bacterial collection came from the Chagos Trench in the Indian Ocean below the water depth of 5904 metres. The CCMB-NIO team isolated bacteria from 50 to 70 cm section of a 4.6 metres long sediment core deep in the seas.
What has baffled the scientific team is that the sediments were about 50,000 years old. From the sediments came out two entirely new species of bacteria. The scientists have named it Brevibacterium oceani after they sequenced the bacteria using a technique known as "16S rRNA sequencing".
"The almost-complete 16S rRNA gene sequences of these two strains showed 99.9 per cent similarity among themselves. Following a scientific analysis, the two strains showed 97.9 to 98.4 per cent similarity to other Brevibacterium species. DNA-DNA dot-blot hybridisation of these two strains with other known Brevibacterium species showed relatedness of only 35-41 per cent. A DNA-DNA relatedness of 70 per cent is used as the cut-off point for species delineation. Based on these results and differences in other phenotypic characteristics, these two strains belong to a novel species and the new species name Brevibacterium oceani was proposed," an NIO report
According to the NIO report, from the same sediments, two more new strains belonging to a new species Microbacterium indicum were found. Biochemical characteristics, fatty acid profile, polar lipid contents and levels of DNA-DNA hybridisation techniques were used to report this new species. "These results indicate that deep-sea sediments hold a hidden wealth of microbial diversity which remains to be
explored," the joint study by CCMB-NIO teams felt.